The Penguins are coming off of one of their most impressive weekends of the season.
They picked up all-important victories against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals and did so in dominant fashion. Those wins were just the latest during a current six-game winning streak that has jumped them into second place in the Metropolitan Division for the first time since Nov. 6, 2015.
Many players, coaches and circumstances have helped the Penguins get where they are, but it is safe to say that nothing and no one has had the impact of their captain, Sidney Crosby.
Crosby, like his team, has been flying as of late. He is riding a current 12-game scoring streak that has seen him collect six goals and 20 points. His four points during the aforementioned weekend victories also extended a scoring streak against the Metropolitan Division to 10 games. He has collected four goals and 15 points over that span.
This burst has helped him climb into third place in the leagues’ scoring race with 76 points. He is just four points behind the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn for second place and trails the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane by 16 for the top spot.
The 28-year-old was named the NHL’s First Star for the week ending March 20 on Monday afternoon after picking up two goals and seven points in four wins. That, along with his scoring streak, and his overall impact on what has become a fairly exciting Penguins’ season has some wondering if he could be a viable candidate for the Hart Trophy awarded to the leagues’ most valuable player.
It is easy to say that he shouldn’t be in the conversation.
His critics, even today, are pointing to this being an off-year for the superstar. He limped out of the gates, as did his team, and both faltered mightily until head coach Mike Johnston was replaced with Mike Sullivan.
Or so the narrative says.
It is also easy to anoint Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks as a slam dunk favorite for the Hart Trophy. He’s leading the league in scoring and had a much ballyhooed 26-game scoring streak earlier in the season that set a league record for an American born player, as well a franchise mark for the Blackhawks.
Kane is probably joined by players like Benn, Washington’s Evgeni Kuznetsov and Alexander Ovechkin, and even St. Louis Blues’ standout Vladimir Tarasenko, but is it crazy to include Crosby?
Narrative says yes, but it really isn’t crazy at all. Here are a number of facts that make Crosby almost the best candidate when trying to identify the leagues’ most valuable player.
The naysayers point to Crosby’s October, which was nothing short of wretched, as the main reason for holding him at bay in terms of Hart voting. He picked up just five points in his first 11 games, but in actuality had points in just two of them. The Penguins weathered that storm and entered November carrying a record of 7-4-0.
National media narratives point to the arrival of Mike Sullivan as the moment Crosby started playing hockey this season. That simply isn’t true. Yes, his totals have been outstanding since Sullivan arrived, but let’s look at things starting on Nov. 4 -- a 3-2 win in Vancouver -- that kicked off a run of four points in four games for Crosby.
Who do you think ranks second in the league in scoring from Nov. 4 through Sunday?
If you said Crosby, you’d be the big winner.
Crosby’s 71 points in 60 games over that span trail just Kane and his 76 points in 61 games. He also leads the San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton, who ranks third over that span, by eight. He ranks third in goals (30), is tied for sixth in assists (41) and is tied for the most game-winning-goals (7) over that span.
Don’t worry; we’re here to show the impact Sullivan has had on Crosby as well, since he has indeed been even better since Dec. 12, 2015, the day his new bench boss came on board.
Starting there, just over a third of the way through the season with the Penguins carrying a 15-10-3 record, Crosby took off.
The Penguins’ captain has played 43 games under Sullivan and leads the league in with 57 points over that span. He ranks second to only Ovechkin in goals with 25, is tied for fourth in assists with 32, is tied for fourth with a plus-21 rating and is tied for the best mark in the league with six game-winning goals.
We mentioned that the Penguins have climbed into second place in the Metropolitan Division a bit earlier. That effort has been boosted by their 15-7-2 record against their inter-division rivals. They have been even better over the past 18 games against the Metropolitan Division, going 14-3-1.
Crosby’s fingerprints are all over that dominance as well. He has played 23 games against his division and is averaging 1.13 points per game in those contests, rolling up 10 goals and 26 points. Three of his game winning goals have come in those outings.
He has also helped his team make headway in the Eastern Conference standings, as he is tied for third in scoring against the Atlantic Division, picking up nine goals and 24 points in 21 games against those foes. He’s been just as good in non-conference games, ranking fourth among all Eastern Conference scorers against the West, picking up 12 goals and 26 points in 27 games.
Crosby has also brandished his leadership on and off the ice throughout the season and more so lately to help offset the loss of Evgeni Malkin, picking up three assists and nine points in four games without his running mate.
It is also worth noting that Kane, though still leading the league in scoring, has fallen back to the pack in the second half of the season. A look at each player’s statistics since January 1, show Crosby leading Kane in scoring 49 to 36. Kane’s Blackhawks have also slipped into third place in the Central Division.
So yes, Crosby has been much improved under Sullivan and he’s been even better over his 12-game scoring streak, but he has shown for the better part of 60 games that he’s been leading the Penguins in every possible way.
He’s thrived against his division, against his conference and even against the west. He’s helped pick up the pieces when teammates have been out injured. He’s helped young players like Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust feel more comfortable, which has helped them thrive and he’s most definitely making a case to be included in the conversation when the voters choose the leagues’ most valuable player this season.